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Eating Disorder Prevention Tips for Parents

Because we live in a culture obsessed with thinness and dieting, it can be difficult to recognize when a person’s thinking or behavior has become dangerous. That’s why prevention is worth its weight in gold.

You may know someone with an eating disorder. It could be your daughter, sister, mother, relative, friend or roommate. The person may try to hide it, but the focus of their everyday life revolves—obsessively—around food and weight. Some people try to starve themselves. Others binge and then try to undo their bingeing through some form of purging. Most people with eating disorders are in denial. Eating disorders are very serious. They have an impact on both physical and mental health and left untreated, they can be fatal. But you can help.

Here are some tips for parents including:


General Dos & Don’ts

Do:

  • Learn about eating disorders so you will recognize the signs when you see them.
  • Understand the consequences of eating disorders on physical and psychological health. (Eating disorders are potentially fatal diseases and must be treated accordingly.)
  • Listen to the individual with understanding, respect and sensitivity.
  • Tell the person that you are concerned, you care, and you would like to help. Suggest that the person seek professional help from a physician and/or therapist.
  • Be available when your friend or family member needs someone to talk to.
  • Discuss things other than food, weight, counting calories and exercise. Attempt to talk about feelings instead.
  • Share your own vulnerabilities and struggles in coping with life.

Don’t:

  • Don’t take any action alone. Get help.
  • Don’t try to solve the problem for them. They need a qualified professional.
  • Don’t blame them for doing something wrong or tell them they are acting silly.
  • Don’t gossip about them.
  • Don’t focus on weight, the number of calories being consumed or particular eating habits.
  • Don’t make comments about their appearance. Concern about weight loss may be interpreted as a compliment and comments about weight gain may be seen as criticism.
  • Don’t be afraid to upset them; talk with them.
  • Don’t reject or ignore them; they need you.
  • Don’t get involved in a power struggle around eating or other behaviors.
  • Don’t be deceived by their excuses.

Prevention Tips for Parents

Do:

  • Examine your own beliefs and feelings about body image and weight and consider how your attitudes, comments or nonverbal responses are being communicated to your children.
  • Encourage healthy eating and exercise.
  • Allow your child to determine when they are full.
  • Talk about different body types and how they can all be accepted and appreciated.
  • Discuss the dangers of dieting.
  • Show your children you love them for who they are, not because of how they look.

Don’t:

  • Don’t label foods as “good” or “bad.”
  • Don’t use food as a reward or punishment.
  • Don’t diet or encourage your child to diet.
  • Don’t comment on weight or body types: yours, your child’s or anyone else’s.
  • Don’t let anyone ridicule, blame or tease your child.

How Outside Influences May Affect Eating Behavior

The culture of disordered eating is pervasive in our society. Following are ways we might affect eating behavior without even knowing it:

  • Praising or glorifying a person based on body size or appearance.
  • Complimenting someone when they lose weight or diet.
  • Encouraging someone to lose weight.
  • Talking negatively about our bodies.
  • Discussing measurements, weights or clothing sizes.
  • Thinking of foods as “good” or “bad.”
  • Making fun of another person’s eating habits or food choices.
  • Criticizing your own eating.
  • Considering a person’s weight important.
  • Saying someone is “healthy” or “well” because they are thin.
  • Expecting perfection.
  • Pushing an individual to exercise more than is necessary or healthy.
  • Assuming that a fat person wants or needs to lose weight.
  • Agreeing with the media’s view about what body types are acceptable or attractive.

Tips to Share with Your Kids

  • No food is “good” or “bad.” Everything from pizza to carrots to peanut butter and candy can be part of a healthy menu.
  • Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are full. Try to do this most of the time.
  • Don’t eat because you are bored, sad or angry. Find something interesting to do or someone to talk with instead.
  • Stay fit by exercising. You can take up a sport or join a class like dance or karate, but you don’t have to. Playing with friends can be just as energizing and fun!
  • All bodies are different. People of all shapes and sizes can eat well and be healthy.
  • Teasing hurts. Don’t take part in it, especially if it is about a person’s body, weight or size.
  • Remember that fat does not equal bad and thin does not equal good.
  • If you’re unhappy with your body or weight, talk to an adult. Parents, school nurses and teachers can often give you valuable information and support.
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